May 2011 Preview
by Ray Subers
April 29, 2011
The 2011 box office started to show signs of recovery in April, and that's likely going to continue through May. Last May's total was on the low-end for the month ($905.4 million), while the highest-grossing May ever was in 2009 ($1.018 billion). That figure could be reachable with Fast Five holdover grosses, heavyweights Thor and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides and the first six days of Kung Fu Panda 2 and The Hangover Part II.
Thor officially begins the Summer against romantic comedies Something Borrowed and Jumping the Broom, though its biggest competition looks to be Fast Five. The sequel is poised for a huge opening this weekend and should still be raking in the cash when Thor debuts, which is the first time a tentpole has faced major holdover competition at the beginning of the season. Also, while Thor is the latest in the popular Avengers series, the godly title character doesn't have the same mass appeal as Tony Stark from Iron Man and Iron Man 2, which opened to $98.6 million and $128.1 million, respectively. Still, advertisements have been ubiquitous and awareness is high, and Thor could debut higher than fellow Avenger The Incredible Hulk ($55.4 million).
Something Borrowed and Jumping the Broom open in the wake of Thor and Fast Five. Something Borrowed has a solid cast including Ginnifer Goodwin, Kate Hudson and The Office's John Krasinski, though their actual drawing power is questionable. Jumping the Broom is a culture clash wedding comedy similar to last year's Our Family Wedding, which opened to just $7.6 million despite having well-known leads Forest Whitaker and Carlos Mencia. Both movies have some niche appeal, but Thor and Fast Five are broad enough that it's hard to imagine either one making much of an impact.
Bottom Line: The God of Thunder should finish ahead of Fast Five's second weekend and the modest romantic comedies, but how it will stand up compared to past summer kick-offs remains in question.
The second weekend of May is usually slow, and that looks to be the case again this year, when Bridesmaids and Priest go head-to-head. To this point, Judd Apatow productions have been almost entirely male affairs. That changes with Bridesmaids, which was co-written by and stars Saturday Night Live's Kristen Wiig. The movie has reportedly been well-received in pre-release screenings over the past few months, and word is that its humor is broadly appealing. Distributor Universal Pictures's advertising campaign, though, has so far focused on critic quotes and the recently weakened Apatow brand, failing to bring the funny. Still, with Thor and Fast Five, there's going to be a lot of testosterone in the market, and Bridesmaids might be stronger counterprogramming than Something Borrowed or Jumping the Broom.
Long-delayed futuristic action movie Priest looks like the season's first major disappointment. Its muddled marketing has emphasized that it's based on a graphic novel. Unfortunately, the graphic novel in question is a South Korean one that is under the radar of most casual comic book fans. There was also an opportunity here to latch on to the slowly fading vampire craze, but the creatures haven't been a notable part of the commercials. With solid earnings potential in Asia, Priest has a chance of not being viewed as an outright failure, though there's little chance it breaks out domestically.
Bottom Line: Thor should repeat on top, but, among the newcomers, Bridesmaids seems like the best box office bet.
The fourth installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean series is the only nationwide release scheduled for May 20, which makes sense considering its part of one of the highest-grossing franchises of all-time. Despite making boatloads of money, though, the last two Pirates movies aren't thought of highly, which usually results in declining attendance. The quest for the Fountain of Youth is an intriguing plot element, but the On Stranger Tides marketing has instead focused on announcing that Captain Jack is back without providing a compelling reason that this will be better than the last two. The brand remains strong enough thanks to good will from The Curse of the Black Pearl, though, so the latest Pirates movie will surely be one of the highest-grossing movies this Summer. It's just going to have a tough time reaching At World's End's $309.4 million, even with 3D.
Bottom Line: Without much competition, Pirates will sail away with this one.
As the launch pad for hotly-anticipated sequels The Hangover Part II and Kung Fu Panda 2, along with the second weekend for Pirates, this Memorial Day looks like it could be one for the record books. Hangover and Panda are both opening on Thursday the 26th, targeting mostly different audiences, and both should rack up huge initial numbers over the holiday weekend.
After The Hangover became the highest-grossing R-rated comedy ever with $277.3 million, a sequel was quickly green-lighted. The trailer for The Hangover Part II essentially promises more of the same, except with a change in location from Las Vegas to Bangkok. This makes it eerily similar to Sex and the City 2, which also opened exactly two years after the first movie and shifted the action to an exotic locale. That movie took a steep 38 percent drop from its predecessor. Even if The Hangover Part II experiences a similar decline, it would still make over $170 million, which is nothing to complain about. Regardless of where it finishes, though, The Hangover Part II will certainly be much more front-loaded than The Hangover, which debuted to $45 million in June 2009 before holding extremely well throughout the rest of the season.
Unlike many of the sequels coming out this Summer, Kung Fu Panda 2 actually feels like a movie audiences are clamoring to see. The original Panda earned over $630 million worldwide three years ago and remains well-regarded, and the sequel ups the ante with a new villain who aims to extinguish kung fu entirely. The movie also has a huge scheduling advantage: Rio will be wrapping up its run by the time Panda opens, and Cars 2 doesn't hit until four weeks later. It's also worth noting that the Panda sequel will be even bigger internationally, where 3D sequels tend to out-gross their predecessors and where Cars 2 is less competitive. Strong domestic figures combined with potent foreign growth make a worldwide total well north of $700 million seem like a foregone conclusion for Kung Fu Panda 2.
Bottom Line: This is easily May's most contested weekend. Even if The Hangover Part II beats Kung Fu Panda 2 in their first days, the latter will almost certainly emerge victorious in the long run.
Past Monthly Previews
• April 2011 Preview
• March 2011 Preview
• February 2011 Preview
• January 2011 Preview
• December 2010 Preview
• November 2010 Preview
• October 2010 Preview
• September 2010 Preview
• August 2010 Preview
• July 2010 Preview
• June 2010 Preview
• Opening Weekends - May
• Biggest Aggregated Months - May